Spinner Dolphin - Oceana

Marine Mammals

Spinner Dolphin

Stenella longirostris


Worldwide in tropical to warm temperate latitudes


Open ocean (pelagic)

Feeding Habits

Active predator


Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales), Family Delphinidae (dolphins)


This species feeds on schooling, mesopelagic fishes and squids in the open ocean. Like their prey, spinner dolphins form large groups – typically composed of hundreds or even thousands of individuals – for hunting and socializing. Spinner dolphins are known for being quite playful and put on impressive aerial displays, breaching and spinning regularly. Mating also occurs in groups, with several males and several females mating simultaneously. Females only reproduce every three years or so.

As the spinner dolphin is a wide-ranging, open ocean species, its conservation status is not well known. It is, however, at the center of a major conservation controversy. In the 1980s, fisheries that targeted the yellowfin tuna were responsible for accidentally catching and killing spinner and spotted dolphins, sparking the famous and successful dolphin-safe tuna campaign. The tendency of adult yellowfin tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean to school with similarly sized adult dolphins led to the unfortunate habit of fishermen setting their nets around dolphin pods with the hope of catching the nearby tuna. That activity is now illegal in most places around the world, but scientists believe that several million spinner and spotted dolphins have been killed in tuna nets. This species now has legal protection throughout much of its range and is the focus of several international conservation efforts. However, continued study is needed to determine the direction of population trends and the conservation status of this species.

Fun Facts About Spinner Dolphins

1. Spinner dolphins grow up to 7 feet (2.1 m) long and weigh up to 170 pounds (77 kg).

2. Spinner dolphins can live for 20 years.1

3. Spinner dolphins are known for spinning their bodies in the air, making as many as seven rotations at a time.

4. Researchers suggest that spinner dolphins spin for multiple reasons: to shake off remoras and parasites; to indicate location and direction; to display dominance; for courtship purposes; and possibly just because the activity is fun for the dolphins.

5. Spinner dolphins can reach up to 9.8 feet (3 m) above water.2

Engage Youth with Sailors for the Sea

Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.

Kids Environmental Lesson Plans


1 NOAA Fisheries

2 Journal of Experimental Biology

IUCN Red List